How Much is Enough?

A constituent asked me the following questions in email this week and I think the answers are worth pointing out.

1) Can you show me the studies that indicate there is a correlation between money spent per student and student achievement? It would be good to know that spending more money would get better results.
2) How much money is enough? The common cry is that the state doesn’t spend enough money, but I wonder how we define “enough”. Is there some percentage of the budget or dollar amount that would be satisfactory and get different results from what we get now? (refer back to above question)


I pointed her to the results of a study we did in 2008 – the Basic Education Financing Joint Task Force. We used the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to examine the research in education, try to weed out the questionable work, and quantify what we proposed and how it would affect student learning. I warn people that reading too much into the details here can lead to absurd results, but I think they did a good job.

The results for our proposal, which is about a 40% increase in spending are below. More detail on their methodology is available in the actual report, available here. See appendix B.


At the December 8, 2008, meeting of the Task Force, we presented preliminary long

run effects of the Task Force portfolio on high school graduation rates in Washington.21

We update these estimates here. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the current high school graduation rate in Washington is about 72.5 percent. This is a cohort on time graduation rate.22 We used the procedures described earlier to project two estimates: how both the Task Force proposal and the zero based option could be expected to affect this rate. These effects are estimated 14 years after full implementation of the options to reflect the estimated long-run effect of investments in preschool and the other grades at the end of the education cycle in 12th grade.
Task Force Recommendation
We project that the Task Force recommendations would increase the modal graduation rate to about 81 percent from its current level of 72.5 percent. Exhibit B1 plots these two figures and also indicates the significant amount of uncertainty around our estimated effect of the Task Force portfolio. The total area under the curve represents all cases from our simulation modeling. For example, in a small number of cases, the graduation rate could be expected to be much higher—over 90 percent; in most cases, however, it would be in the 78 percent to 84 percent range, with the modal case of 81 percent. The range largely reflects the underlying uncertainty in the expected effect of additional educational resources on student outcomes.







School Funding post-McCleary

A broken piggy bank filled with money.I have not yet completely read the long opinion Judge Erlick issued yesterday in a court case brought by school districts, parents, and educator groups but I’m excited by the summary and the implications for a positive impact on school funding in Washington. The judge ruled that the state does not adequately fund public education and that we are not meeting the constitutional requirement that we “amply provide for the education of all students.”

Like most judicial opinions that require the state to do something, rather than an opinion ruling some action of the state unconstitutional, there is a lot of deference given to the legislature in how to carry out the ruling. For example, when the US Supreme Court ruled in the Brown vs. Board of Education case the ruling phrase was that we should use “all deliberate speed” in eliminating segregation in schools. This was pretty ambiguous, but served as the basis for many actions, including federal protection of children attending previously forbidden schools and much court supervision over desegregation plans.

Judge Erlick ruled that the plan we passed last year (HB 2261, the result of our Basic Education Financing Task Force) was an acceptable framework for clearly stating what basic education entails and determining the cost. I’m pleased that the plan we produced meets the court’s approval, but now we will have to both close down the details of it AND determine a funding plan.

Continue reading “School Funding post-McCleary”

New Newsletter Available

I emailed out a newsletter today. I’m attaching a link to the PDF version of it – this is somewhat easier to print out and read if you’re a print person.

2009-12-15 Newsletter

I expect to produce much more regular newsletters now that we are approaching the session. Please let me know if there is something you would like me to address. I’ll try to address popular questions that we get in email as well as the stuff I’m working on.

Updates to Basic Ed Financing

The Senate released their budget yesterday. The House releases its today. I’ll opine later on the differences. Both are mostly no-new-revenue budgets. The Senate packages up closing some tax loopholes. The House comes out later this morning so I can’t comment on it now.

Both bodies have passed a version of the Basic Education Finance Task Force bill. The House bill was the stronger of the two. HB 2261. You can get details here:

Our staff has written an analysis of the two that may prove helpful.

summary-of-sen-striker-to-2261 is a short summary of changes made to the senate bill in committee.

comparison-house-senate-as-passed-comm-2 is a longer summary of the differences between the original House bill and the bill as it passed out of the Senate Education committee yesterday.

We still need to decide what form the bill will take in the end game and how we convince the Governor to sign it. There is much resistance to a bill that creates serious stakes in the ground for education.

Differences between the House and Senate versions of Ed Finance Reform

The House and Seante passed VERY different versions of the reform legislation. Below is a staff summary of the differences in language that’s reasonably easy to understand, though still somewhat “inside baseball.” The Spokesman-Review in Spokane captures it in language that makes more sense to the casual reader when they say

What’s emerged in the Senate is a “We Love Education” bumper sticker.

The hollowed-out bill states an intent to really, really do something about this issue in the next biennium. The following have been removed: Core 24 (the state board of education’s wish to increase the number of required graduation credits from 19 to 24), all-day kindergarten, preschool for low-income children, an increase in transportation dollars, school accountability and changes in teacher certification, assessments and pay. Spokesman-Review full editorial

It’s too easy to demonize one side or the other in this debate, and difficult to come to an agreement about the most important thing we do as a state government. We’ll keep working on the overall plan and try to get to a final agreement that makes sense and does more than just move the ball forward.


House Approves Ed Finance Bill

Last night the House approved the current incarnation of our ed finance reform bill – HB 2261. I’m including links to some summaries of the bill, including the AP story from the Seattle PI site (out of nostalgia). It’s depressing that Curt Woodward was the only reporter physically present on the floor when we passed the bill – there used to be many, many more.

AP Story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Staff Summary of ESSB 2261

The bill includes an amendment from me that creates the strong legal definition of “basic education,” a key element of requiring the Legislature to step up to the level of funding required to provide students with the opportunity to earn a meaningful diploma.

We have more work to do as you can tell from the following comparison of this bill to our initial proposal. I can guarantee that we won’t do a bill exactly like our first proposal, but we need to address all the same categories of decisions. We are making progress and I hope to continue.

Comparison of HB 1410 and ESSB 2261

Education Financing Update

For the entire 6 years I’ve been in the legislature I’ve worked on school funding. I’ve tried to improve the amount and the efficacy of use of the money. This year a bipartisan group of six legislators introduced a package of reforms coming from the Basic Education Financing Task Force report. I’ve written about it in this blog before ( and will in the future.

We’re in the middle of a tumultuous period in the evolution of the bills. Our original bills (HB 1410 and SB 5444) were a 110 page first draft that we expected to engender a robust discussion. We were right about part of it – the discussion was robust, but unfortunately not substantive. The Olympia-based education groups have been very negative on the proposal, with most outside groups supportive. The legislation changes distribution of billions of dollars, and we were probably naive to expect change of this magnitude to go smoothly.

We’ve taken a new approach – we’re starting with a blank slate instead of a large first draft. We’ve introduced two bills with similar titles but no real content. The new bills are HB 2261 and SB 6048.  We will move these bills through the system while we work on re-crafting a comprehensive bill. This is the strategy we used successfully in fixing the math standards last year.

Behind the scenes the House and Senate are working daily on trying to build consensus around the big pieces of the package. We’ll recapitulate the process we used to build the original legislation with the six of us in a room, but with many more people involved. I expect this to be painful, but it’s a necessary step. Pat, Skip, Rodney, Fred, Glenn and I spent hundreds of hours learning and working with the alternatives. We’ll try to lead everyone through the same process, but in less time.

This will be a circuitous process. We need your input as we move forward. Thanks for staying engaged.

Open Letter to Teachers about HB 1410

I’ve had a lot of questions from teachers on HB 1410 that seem to indicate some misunderstanding of our intent and I believe a misreading of the bill. 1410 is a serious attempt to address school funding inadequacies and the structural problems that have built up over 30 years since the last major revision.  The worst structural problem affecting teachers is the legislature’s inability to give raises to teachers without bankrupting school districts. This occurs due to the interaction between TRI pay and the number of teachers local districts have to hire to meet even a weak definition of “basic education.”  This is crazy, and not in the interest of anyone in the system, most particularly teachers.

Our seminal observation about the current system is that it’s resulted in a pretty serious decline in the relative competitiveness of teacher salaries over the last few decades. The stat I use with some frequency is that the SAT scores of students entering teaching programs at universities have declined 75 points over the last 25-30 years. The number is national, not specific to Washington, but is an indicator that we’re losing our attractiveness to the top students. This is a recipe for failure of the system, as we totally depend on teacher quality for any results. The first thing we MUST do is start with competitive teacher salaries. Our proposal includes a comparable wage survey of the labor markets in Washington, comparing teacher salaries to jobs that have similar educational and talent requirements.

Continue reading “Open Letter to Teachers about HB 1410”

The News Tribune covers Basic Ed plan

Peter Callaghan wrote about our tremendous hearing in the House yesterday. We had 120 people testify, of whom only 13 were opposed. The most amusing juxtaposition was when a panel of 4 superintendents delivered a letter from all 35 school district superintendents in the Puget Sound region endorsing the bill was followed by the director of the WA Association of School Administrators opposing it. The 35 districts in Puget Sound have about 40% of the students in the state. 🙂

We have a lot of work to do on the bill still and will report on it as we go, but Peter Callaghan’s piece is nice coverage.

Basic Ed Finance Task Force does a press conference

The “Big Six” legislators did a press conference about releasing our bills into the wild. It was a bit of a stumbling performance – none of us do these things regularly, but it seemed interesting to the crowd that was in Olympia to attend the hearings. I hear they filled two rooms in the Senate and had people out in the hall near the overflow room. Hopefully we’ll do the same thing in the House tomorrow.

Mikala Woodward did a much better job writing this up in her blog Worth reading. She even has photos.